From wrist to shoulder, give your joints the freedom they deserve
Written by: Sam Lynch
Our joints provide us with the ability to move in multiple planes with unparalleled mobility. No two joints give us this freedom of movement more than the shoulder and the wrist. Sadly, we often abuse this mobility by forcing our joints into positions traditional training tools promote (i.e., barbells)
Just because a tool promotes a certain grip or joint angle, doesn’t mean that position is the best one for us.
Let’s do a quick practical task.
Stand up and let your arms rest by your side.
Take a look at the position of your arms.
It’s more than likely that your palms are facing each other.
Let’s try another.
Place your arms out in front of you at shoulder height.
Now pull your elbows back and hands towards you, as naturally and as relaxed as you can.Take note of the natural inclination of your palms to rotate towards each other.
Both of these display our preference to adopt a neutral position through the shoulder, arm and wrist.
Due their mobility, both areas are fairly susceptible to a host of issues that are exacerbated by some of our training methods.
Let’s take a look at some common issues associated with the shoulder and wrist, as well as the mechanisms behind them.
A Look at The Shoulder
The shoulder complex is labelled as such for a reason; it’s pretty complex.
All you need to know is that the shoulder is a ball and socket joint that heavily relies on the surrounding ligaments and musculature for support in movement and stability.
The shoulder joint provides us with more mobility than other joint: Abduction, Adduction, Horizontal Abduction, Horizontal Adduction, Circumduction, Flexion, Extension, Internal Rotation and External Rotation.
Nothing is more vital to the shoulders functioning smoothly in these movements than the rotator cuff muscles and the shoulder blade (scapula).
The Rotator Cuff
The shoulder has 4 main muscles that make up the rotator cuff and act as the drivers behind movement (and in turn healthy functioning of the shoulder) . The Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Teres Minor and Subscapularis.
All four of these muscles work together to stabilise the top of the humerus in the shoulder joint.
The supraspinatus facilitates lifting the shoulder up and sideways, the infraspinatus and teres minor rotate the shoulder externally, and the subscapularis allows free movement of the humerus during elevation.
It’s these muscles of the rotator cuff that facilitate the dynamic stability of the shoulder throughout movement.
The Shoulder Blade
The shoulder blade works in unison with the movements at the shoulder to create more room for the humerus and stop the bony structures of the humerus colliding with the bony structures of the shoulder girdle.
Essentially we want to keep the top of the humerus centred in the joint throughout movement. The movement of the scapula helps to facilitate this.
It does this through: Elevation, Depression, Retraction (adduction), Protraction (Abduction), Upward Rotation, Downward Rotation.
This relationship between the scapula moving and the humerus moving is aptly named the scapulohumeral rhythm. This rhythm is what supports smooth movement and dynamic stability throughout shoulder function.
It can be said then, that when this rhythm is upset, so are the mechanics of movement that support healthy function in the upper extremities.
The subacromial space is the space between the Glenohumeral joint and the Acromion (a bony process of the scapula that sits above).
In training, this is echoed in an overemphasis on stabilising the scapula, which consequently inhibits the natural movements of the scapula and in turn the biomechanics of the shoulder.
An example of this would be in a rowing movement:
Pinning the shoulder blade back during a row, will likely force your body to look for range of motion elsewhere, which can result in anterior translation of the shoulder joint (shoulder rolling forward).
This puts the shoulder at greater risk of impingement as the spaces between bones in the shoulder joint are reduced.
Dysfunction and muscle imbalance that effects the scapulohumeral rhythm will in turn have an effect on the positioning of the shoulder joint throughout movements, also increasing the risk of impingement.
Our hands and wrist are designed to grip and manipulate objects and have a complex system of both bones and muscles that serve to move the wrist, hand and fingers.
When gripping and pulling objects, our fingers are what produce the most force to be able to grip objects.
As shown at the start, during movement at the arm we have a natural inclination to rotate into a neutral position as we retract the arm.
This is evident in our physiology as the articulation of the ulna and radius (long forearm bones) have evolved so that the radius rotates around the ulna during movement; allowing us to supinate and pronate the hand.Supination is when the palm is facing upwards.
Pronation is when the palm is facing downwards.
The neutral position lies in between these two actions.
Although the acts of supination and pronation begin at the wrist, they are facilitated by the internal and external rotation of the shoulder.
When the hand goes into supination, the shoulder externally rotates.
When the hand goes into pronation, the shoulder internally rotates.
Common Issues at The Wrist
The wrist itself is also susceptible to injuries such as sprains and tendonitis that are mostly brought about by inefficient force transference through the wrist joint.
When the wrist joint is not in an optimal position, stress can be placed on the surrounding ligaments and tendons.
Interestingly, the optimal position to produce force and maximum grip has shown to be affected by individual preference. In a study looking at wrist posture and effects on power and grip strength, subjects produced the most force in a position they spontaneously chose themselves.
This suggests that the strongest positions at the wrist for force development are influenced by individual preference and a person’s natural inclination to grip an object where they feel strongest.
How the Angles90 grips can help
Freedom Of Movement
The Angles90 grips can help to alleviate and protect against common issues at the shoulder and wrist as they promote freedom of movement, a neutral ranged position and allow for personal preferences in grip.
This may be most apparent when using the Angles90 grips attached to fixed position bars (i.e., barbells or pullup bars), as you can now adopt an angle that you’re comfortable with from the start; most likely a neutral one.
You can also move through these positions as you do an exercise, helping to reinforce your natural inclination to rotate the arm as you move it.
Unlike most traditional equipment, the ergonomic design of the Angle90 grips also takes into consideration the physiology of the hand and wrist.
The Angles90 grips also allow you to grip in a position that pertains to your own natural preference, which has shown to important when producing maximum grip strength.
The Ergonomic design of the Angles90 grips fits snugs into the palm, whilst a groove through the centre allows the middle finger to wrap over comfortably.
All in all, the Angles90 grips allow for a more comfortable experience from person to person and provide a more optimal experience for the wrist, bones of the hand, tendons, ligaments and nerves.
Promoting dynamic stability is a key function of the scapula and as the Angles90 promotes movement through the wrist, arm and shoulder; it also promotes the development of dynamic stability.
By working the shoulder and rotator cuff muscles through their natural biomechanics, you will increase the activation of the muscles fibres which in turn will result in strength, hypertrophy and stability gains.
This also works to even out muscular imbalances and help to establish a healthy scapulohumeral rhythm, both of which are key to reducing the risk of shoulder impingement.
The majority of people spend much more time in a pronated position at the hand (typing away at computers all day being a big culprit), which is then further reinforced when doing traditional barbells moves such as bent over rows and deadlifts.
The Angles90 grips can also help to combat this by placing a bigger emphasis on external rotation of the shoulder through dynamic movement and give you the option to adopt a neutral position when necessary.
Angles90 grips provide an opportunity to take advantage of your natural biomechanics and reduce the risk of developing issues at the shoulder and wrist.
Take back control of your joints and give them the freedom their deserve.The easiest way to do it? Add the use of Angles90 grips into your training.
About The Author
Sam is a rising Personal Trainer from London, UK. He specialises in helping people build strong, resilient bodies with pain free training methods and sustainable lifestyle change.